Author: Jeff Hirsch
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Horror, Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia, Young Adult
Publication Date: September 2011
Hardcover: 288 pages
The wars that followed The Collapse nearly destroyed civilization. Now, twenty years later, the world is faced with a choice—rebuild what was or make something new.
Stephen Quinn, a quiet and dutiful fifteen-year-old scavenger, travels Post-Collapse America with his Dad and stern ex-Marine Grandfather. They travel light. They keep to themselves. Nothing ever changes. But when his Grandfather passes suddenly and Stephen and his Dad decide to risk it all to save the lives of two strangers, Stephen’s life is turned upside down. With his father terribly injured, Stephen is left alone to make his own choices for the first time.
Stephen’s choices lead him to Settler’s Landing, a lost slice of the Pre-Collapse world where he encounters a seemingly benign world of barbecues, baseball games and days spent in a one-room schoolhouse. Distrustful of such tranquility, Stephen quickly falls in with Jenny Tan, the beautiful town outcast. As his relationship with Jenny grows it brings him into violent conflict with the leaders of Settler’s Landing who are determined to remake the world they grew up in, no matter what the cost.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel (although ostensibly could be the first in a series)
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I’m on one of my dystopian/post-apocalyptic kicks! READERS BEWARE! (Seriously though, the premise of this book, while familiar, sounded pretty good. Plus, Suzanne Collins blurb on the cover. Um, yes.)
When P-11, a souped up version of influenza concocted and weaponized by the Chinese government, was unleashed on North America, global society had already long been in the process of collapse. After the nukes the United States unleashed, after the economic meltdown, and constant atmosphere of fear and distrust, the plague was just another symptom of a sick, dying world. Stephen has never known the world pre-collapse; his whole life he has salvaged and kept to the rigid structured rules set by his ex-Marine Grandfather and his father. The rules are simple and absolute: there is no straying from the established path. No approaching other people. Always think of the future, salvage, and survive. When his Grandfather dies, Stephen and his father are left without the old man’s constant rule-making, and for the first time, Stephen’s father decides to deviate from the old man’s path, daring to intervene and save a woman and child from a group of “slavers”. The rescue goes horribly wrong though, and Stephen’s father is gravely injured in the process. Desperate for some kind of help, Stephen scrambles for supplies and aid, and stumbles across a group of survivors – some of whom offer to help Stephen and his father.
Following the new group to their settlement, Stephen sees a world he could hardly have imagined. These survivors have built themselves a town with actual houses, beds, food and water. They play baseball and go to school. They still sing the national anthem and have Thanksgiving. Stephen is an alien to this strange new world and struggles to fit in while his father recovers – but while everything looks happy on the outside, he knows that like everyone everywhere else, these people are still ruled by fear. Some settlers inherently distrust outsiders like Stephen and think he’s a spy – and then when trouble really comes on the heels of a harmless prank, Stephen must decide what kind of life he wants, and what he’s willing to fight for.
I read a great review for this book that compared The Eleventh Plague to the (sadly canceled) TV show Jericho – and now having read the book, I can completely agree with that comparison. Well, kind of a Jericho meets Survivors (a British television show that was pretty awesome). Post-apocalypse novels are a dime a dozen and are growing increasingly prevalent in the YA world, but I feel like many of them are set in the distant post-collapse future, or have an SF or supernatural influence. The Eleventh Plague differentiates itself because it is actually very grounded and disturbingly familiar. In this apocalyptic landscape, there hasn’t been a zombie infection or the eruption of a supervolcano – there has been a war and the release of a biologically engineered superflu, but for the most part, society’s collapse has been nudged along as an extrapolation of tensions that currently exist in our social, political and economic landscape. In other words, The Eleventh Plague isn’t too much of a stretch – which is, in my opinion, the book’s greatest strength. Jeff Hirsch creates a terse, bleak environment that is believable because it is so understated.
Because of this, however, there is less of a plot or action-driven focus for the novel, and The Eleventh Plague is much more of a character piece, following Stephen as he navigates a world without the constant berating presence of his Grandfather, and trying to keep his father (and himself) alive. He goes through a crisis of hope in the book as he struggles with the rules that his grandfather so strictly enforced and the bleakness of survival on the road, separate from anyone else, and the new life he finds in the settlement. While it is Stephen’s internal struggle that characterizes the novel, the standout character that steals the book (for me at least) is Julie – an abandoned Chinese baby that was rescued by one of the settlement families, but has to deal with the constant jibes and bigotry of others because of her appearance and ethnicity.Julie is an explosive character, prone to acting without thinking which brings trouble – but she’s also raw and emotional, and her struggles to fit in with her adopted family and the town is wonderfully portrayed.
On the negative side, the book, though slim, does falter and drag once Stephen starts to adjust to life off the road, and overall is a little underwhelming. There isn’t much that truly happens, and while the protagonists are well detailed, other characters feel two-dimensional – more like vehicles to get across a Point (about Hope and Life and America and the Evil of War and the Importance of Literature). While I agree that all of these are worthy messages, it felt ham-handed and obvious, which detracted from my reading experience.
These criticisms said, though, I still enjoyed this quiet and insular story about a version of the end of the world, and how people rebuild in the face of disaster. It’s not quite as crazy fun or detailed as Jericho (or as dark as Survivors), but it’s a fine, contained novel in and of itself. Recommended for those looking for a more subtle type of post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read the first 14 chapters online HERE, or you can also download a free sample for your ereading pleasure! The sampler is available for kindle US, kindle UK, and for EPUB readers (via Kobo).
Rating: 6 – Good
Reading Next: Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
We have ONE copy of The Eleventh Plague up for grabs! The contest is open to addresses in the US and Canada only, and will run until November 26, 11:59 PM (PST). In order to enter, leave a comment here letting us know which is your favorite post-apocalypse novel/movie/tv show/comic. Good luck!
Buy the Book: